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Commentary: Jesus is still surrounded by too many men

By Cathleen Falsani
c. 2011 Religion News Service

(RNS) Pop quiz: Name three women leaders in evangelical Christianity.

Not including women known primarily as partner to their better-known husbands. And just to make it interesting, let’s say they have to be under age 60.

Stumped? Don’t feel too badly. You’re not alone.

Back in 2005 when Time magazine published its list of the “25 Most Influential Evangelicals,” only four women made the cut — and just two without their husbands. Of the two solo women, Diane Knippers and Joyce Meyer — only Meyer is involved in actual church leadership.

But Meyer turned 68 earlier this month, and Knippers (then president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy), died of cancer shortly after the Time designation.


From the outside, the evangelical Christian world, insomuch as it is identified by its “celebrities,” looks like Jesus’ good ol’ boys club: decidedly male and predominantly white.

In the words of the R&B group 702, “Where my girls at?”

Since she began her writing career in 2001, Margaret Feinberg, 37, has written more than two dozen books, including the critically acclaimed The Organic God, The Sacred Echo and Scouting the Divine. She is a sought-after speaker for gatherings of young evangelicals including Catalyst, Thrive and Creation Festival.

In 2005, Charisma magazine listed her among the 30 Christian leaders under 40 who represent “the future of the American church.” She’s probably the most influential young woman leader in evangelicalism you’ve never heard of.


Feinberg’s newest book, Hungry for God: Hearing God’s Voice in the Ordinary and the Everyday, is a recasting of her 2001 spiritual memoir, God Whispers: Learning to Hear His Voice.

“I wrote God Whispers exploring the belief that as followers of Jesus, we are wired to hear and respond to the voice of God in our lives,” Feinberg writes. Hungry for God revisits her memoir, updating the volume with about 70 percent brand-new material, to reflect her spiritual growth over the last decade.

“There’s a difference between knowing something and owning it,” Feinberg said in a phone interview. “I own it now.”

Feinberg and her husband Leif Oines spend most of the year crisscrossing the country, going from churches to colleges to conferences where Feinberg teaches spiritual lessons from the Bible and real life. She is an electrifying orator, sprightly pacing the stage with a Bible, her voice anchored by a confidence and wisdom well beyond her years. In short, sister can preach!


So why is it that at these events she is often one of the only women on the program? Is there a gender ghetto in evangelical Christianity?

“It’s not a gender thing,” Feinberg said. “There are thousands of pastors and writers and speakers all across the country of all races and ages who are doing incredible things for the kingdom (of God) who you won’t see up there either. I think we’re part of a generation where the values are changing.”

Feinberg recently spoke at a large international Christian gathering — unusual, she said, because the organizers were deliberate about including diverse voices. There were people of color, women, young and old, “famous” and not. “It was such a blessing to be in that kind of a setting,” she said.


Alas, at a follow-up gathering, where the emphasis on diversity was not as deliberate, the event reverted to the status quo: mostly middle-aged white guys, she said.

Like many women of her generation who were raised by mothers who lived through the equal rights movement of the ’70s, “feminism” is pretty much a given, and invoking the term feels almost anachronistic.

While the traditional patriarchal slant of evangelicalism — including opposition to women’s leadership in general, and women’s ordination in particular — is no longer en vogue, its vestiges, however unspoken, remain.

“I wonder why we’re even talking about this when there are so many needs around the world?” Feinberg said. “Now is not the time. When every starving person has food, when every homeless person has a place to live, when every well is dug, when AIDS has been eradicated in Africa, when all of our neighbors know Jesus, then we can sit and debate about titles and who should do what.”


Changing the gender and racial disparity in her spiritual community will not happen overnight, nor by strong-arming women and minorities into the Christian “stratosphere,” she said. “You can’t just take someone, no matter who it is, and throw them in front of a crowd of 40,000 people,” she said. “Change has to start at the grassroots level, in all of our churches.”

Church leaders need to start young, she said, training boys and girls alike to identify their spiritual gifts and find their voices.

“Start with children’s church, then move to junior high and high school youth groups, then small groups, then give them 10 minutes to talk on a Sunday morning, then 20 minutes. The change has to come from the ground up.

“Right now, it should be all hands on deck,” she said. “We need everyone sharing the good news of Jesus.”

  • Frederick Arend

    Is Jesus surrounded by to many women? I think there about three different women associated with Jesus in the New Testament and as we sudy theme they seem to blend together and seem to be one women. Accept fore Mary, his Mother. Was Mary Magdelen a prostitute as she has often been characterized as?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    No, F. Arend: Mary M. was NOT a prostitute. One church, RCC(?) had to discredit her some way so they decided to say that. That accusation has been reversed by the powers in that all male institution. Wasn’t that big of them?

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Your Name

    Please read The Bible.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment LutheranChik

    I’m glad that my church body is home to many outstanding female pastors, theologians and lay leaders. I hope that the example of our denomination and other denominations that strive for gender equity will inspire Evangelical women to “keep hope alive” and keep fighting for recognition in their own neighborhood of Christendom.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cmaglaughlin

    This has to be the most INACCURATE commentary EVER written. There are thousands upon thousands of women, old AND young, in the USA, ministering, preaching and teaching the Gospel. Maybe the author needs to get out a little more often. The fact that YOU haven’t heard of them is a compliment to these “Mary’s and Martha’s” desire to not get bogged down in denominationalism or self aggrandizement. The scripture says, “there is no male nor female” in Christ. Feminists fighting for a bigger piece of the “pie” should get a clue…you ALREADY have it in Him!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Georgia Dude

    Here we go again, a bunch of liberal feminists are trying revise the bible to satisfy their lust for power. Leave Jesus alone. Accept the truth. Get over yourselves. Stop being a bunch of whinning babies.
    Your Name. You are right. People! As the man said. READ the Bible! End of story.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Allan

    In the Lakeview-Lincoln Park area of Chicago, both of the
    episcopal churches a pastored by priestesses. One of the Presbyterian churches is pastored by a woman, the other by a man. Both the UCC and the Unitarian churches have had women pastors, but now are pastored by men. I believe the Baptist church has always been pastored by a man.

    One problem is that many of the people who contribute the most money to the churches will not support a woman pastor. Those who want more women pastors had better learn to support them.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nnmns

    One response to being ignored is to leave. And the more people who leave Evangelicalism, the better.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    actually first read this Feinberg lady does not seem to be complaining and as she said “you can’t just take anybody and throw them in front of 40,000 people” some people who look at the church from the outside in don’t seem to realize that it is not equal it is a calling. It’s a Holy Spirit thing not a man thing at all. Kinda lost most of the protesters right there, they don’t get it but they will keep running their mouths about something they don’t get.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nnmns

    Many are “called”, not so many, men or women, make the big bucks.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment jestrfyl

    Salome (read the resurrection stories, unbelievers!)
    and probably another Mary – in case we missed one.

    Guys wrote the stories, so guys get the starring roles. But a careful read of Luke shows women often come out looking much better than the guys. And the Apostles were not all heroes. There were times they acted like a bunch of brothers rather than a band of believers.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    sick folk even those who call themselves clergy seek to pit the men and women of the bible against each other and have the nerve to do comparisons only to the division of Christians, sick not even a point that Jesus, or the men and women of the bible would have us draw our attention too. Stop pretending to be a man of God when you are no different than even atheist and pagans having the very same message.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    jestrfyl—–Let’s hear it for the women! Thanks!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    It’s a competition pagan? As for that matter what interest do you have in a religion you don’t believe in and the bible which you by self proclamation don’t believe in either? What motives could you have but division and strife.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    Anything that promotes the equality of women, cknuck, I’m for. Makes no difference if it is religious or secular. :o)

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